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Quebec – United against profit

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Issue 1745


United against profit

“TRADE UNIONISTS and environmentalists are united again in the fight to save the planet,” said one of around 80,000 people who took part in several days of protests in Quebec City, Canada, at the end of last week.

They were demonstrating as leaders of all 34 countries from North and South America (except Cuba) met to discuss a free trade pact. Around 11,000 took part in direct action on Friday of last week, and 68,000 in a march on Saturday. Significantly, thousands of workers were actively involved.

The protests delayed the opening ceremony, disrupted other sessions, and succeeded in pulling down a vast “security wall” erected by the authorities to defend the politicians and the multinational representatives. We print eyewitness reports of these inspiring events which so closely resemble what happened in Seattle in November 1999.

By John Bell

“WELCOME TO the revolution,” is how Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians, opened her electrifying speech last Saturday to 3,000 activists in a huge tent erected at the Quebec City harbour front.

Outside the tent up to 70,000 activists, representing almost all the trade unions and federations in Quebec and English Canada together with environment and social justice activists, were marshalling for a march. They were there to protest against the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) and the increasingly transparent brutality of global capitalism.

The FTAA is officially a trade deal, aiming to create a “free trade zone” encompassing 34 countries and 800 million people by 2005. But in reality it is nothing more than a corporate bill of rights-a pact that aims to demolish labour rights and environmental controls, privatise social programmes, and in general increase profits.

As well as protesting at the FTAA they were there to show their outrage at the four-kilometre security fence running like a scar through this beautiful old city. At noon the march set off.

At the same time, on the other side of the city, several thousand students marched from Laval University toward the perimeter. Thousands of workers and young people were already at the fence, braving the clouds of teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets.

The old city of Quebec is built atop a rocky cliff. As the massive labour march proceeded along its route at the bottom of the cliff, the sting of the pepper-laced gas reached the workers. At one strategic point the planned route of the labour march turned sharply away from the cliff toward the sports arena for a rally.

Thousands of workers had other ideas. They pushed through the line of marshals from the FTQ, the Quebec Federation of Labour, and marched up the hill chanting, “Democracy for all-the wall must fall,” and, “So-so-so-solidarit.”

They joined the ranks already there battling riot police. In several places the hated fence was pulled down-at one section by the “Black Bloc”, at another by a combination of young anti-capitalists and trade unionists. Workers build these things-they sure as hell know how to tear them down.

Workers, activists come together

By Paul Kellogg, editor of Socialist Worker‘s Canadian sister paper

  • “VIOLENCE? Violence is homeless people dying in the streets of our cities.”
    MAUDE BARLOW, head of the Council of Canadians which was at the centre of the Quebec protests

THE TEAMSTER-turtle (worker and anti-capitalist) alliance is back, bigger and stronger than ever. It was this alliance, between trade unionists and young anti-capitalists, that gave the great Seattle protests their power. The youth have the fire to spark a revolt. The workers have the power to shut the system down.

Since Seattle we have seen union leaders throughout the world attempt to build a wall between the young activists and the union rank and file. Union leaders in Canada attempted the same thing. The main day of direct action was scheduled for Friday 20 April. The union march was scheduled for Saturday 21 April. And the top union brass were insistent that the two streams should not meet.

But enormous pressure was building inside the ranks to ensure that the young anti-capitalists did not fight the police alone. Steel workers and auto workers announced that they would have members present on the Friday actions. Intensive discussions went on through the week between the organisers of the direct action and key union militants who have been working increasingly closely with the anti-capitalist movement.

On Thursday night the dam broke. Hassan Yussuff, executive member of the Canadian Labour Congress, announced that labour would be forming an affinity group to participate in direct action. There was massive applause. On the next day some 8,000 students rallied at Laval University, about seven kilometres from the walled perimeter. When they marched towards the conference centre they were met by hundreds of robo-cops and volley after volley of teargas.

But the cops and the gas could not stop the protesters. The wall came down, and only the presence of thousands of police prevented the crowd from gaining access to the inner city.

From the east, the labour contingent formed up, initially 1,000 strong. It made its way slowly through the city, occupying intersections, chanting in English, French and Spanish. From every corner people joined the march, swelling its ranks to 2,000. Mid-afternoon a huge cheer went up. We could see the flags of the students coming our way.

The two streams met. Chanting, “Solidarit,” workers grabbed students in huge bearhugs. Middle aged workers and young activists alike had tears in their eyes. And then, in a wave, the now 7,000-strong march swept up the hill, along the top of the cliff to the perimeter. Together the workers and students tore at the wall, and faced volley after volley of teargas from the robocops.

That day, the wall of hate did not come down. But it laid the basis for the thousands who the next day would break away from the 70,000-strong labour march and help the students tear the wall down. And another more important wall had collapsed -the wall that had divided workers from radical students.

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